First Ladies and Presidential Candidates

We haven’t written about the recent election in Argentina in which Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, wife of the outgoing President, was chosen to succeed her husband. Argentina’s election has prompted endless newspaper articles drawing parallels between Mrs. Kirchner and Hillary Clinton, who hopes to duplicate Kirchner’s feat. The similarities between Kirchner and Clinton have been much commented upon, but some have suggested that differences between the two candidates have been too little noted. One who has advanced that view, Seth Leibsohn, the producer of Bill Bennett’s radio show, issued this challenge:

[T]he media keeps talking about the resemblances, we keep trying to go to the video and thought at least we’d see some pics and some compares and contrasts on Power Line a la Miss USA or something but alas, nay…nothing, zippo. Oh sure, plenty on Mukasey, Blackwater, Huckabee but nothing on Ms. Kirchner.

Paul begged off on the theory that his beat is soccer, leaving the task to me. I approach it with trepidation. While I can certainly see Mrs. Kirchner’s appeal, I think it is generally inappropriate to comment on the appearance of a political candidate, except, perhaps, for extreme cases like John Edwards. In this case, though, there is more going on than mere pulchritude. So let’s do the “compare and contrast” that Seth called for. We’ve all seen Hillary a million times, so I’ll keep it brief:
Cristina Kirchner has a certain appeal that many would say Hillary lacks:

It isn’t fair, of course, to compare the prospective Presidents in their youth, but the young Cristina bore a distinct resemblance to Anna Karina:
Some have made snarky comments about Kirchner’s botox vs. Clinton’s plastic surgery. We’re not qualified to judge such subtleties. What comes through clearly, however, is that Mrs. Kirchner seems more comfortable with her own femininity than Mrs. Clinton. Maybe this has something to do with South American culture. But there is a fundamental point here that those who equate Kirchner and Clinton prefer to obscure.
A key aspect of Kirchner’s comfortably feminine style is that she did not try to run against her husband’s legacy. Electing Mrs. Kirchner was understood by everyone to be a continuation of Mr. Kirchner’s regime and policies. Hillary’s relationship to her husband’s administration, on the other hand, is much more complex.
The truth is that there is only one reason why Hillary is a Presidential candidate; that is, the fact that she married Bill. Bill is a political near-genius; Hillary was a pretty good lawyer like many thousands of others. It is her connection with Bill that made her First Lady, got her elected to the Senate, and has now made her a Presidential candidate. There is nothing much wrong with this, and, to stay with the Argentinian parallel, no one imagines that Cristina Kirchner would be President of Argentina were she anyone other than President Kirchner’s wife.
The difference is that Mrs. Kirchner is comfortable with this fact, and Mrs. Clinton isn’t. Hence Hillary’s desire to distance herself, selectively, from her husband’s legacy, as exemplified in the famous moment in a Democratic Presidential debate (which, for some reason, I can’t find on YouTube) when Hillary said–with what seemed like grim satisfaction–that Bill “isn’t the one standing here,” or something like that.
This comparison between Cristina Kirchner and Hillary Clinton illuminates the dilemma that Democrats face this year. Is Hillary Bill’s wife, or is she her own woman? Should we see her candidacy as a restoration of her husband’s largely successful administration, or is she really someone quite different, someone much farther to the left on the political spectrum? And, most of all, the great unspoken question of this year’s campaign: if Hillary wins, will she really be the President, or is she merely a pretext for an otherwise-impossible third term for her husband?
The situation in Argentina is much simpler.
PAUL adds: Great analysis, John. Readers should be happy that I’m relegated to the soccer desk, while Rocket handles the intersection of beauty (or its absence) and abnormal psychology.
The reference to Anna Karina brought back old memories. When we were at Dartmouth, John and I argued over which of us would invite the hauntingly beautiful actress to Winter Carnival. As I recall, neither of us pulled the trigger. I know I didn’t.
UPDATE: There is lots more in the comments, including the “he isn’t standing here” clip.
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